Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The clarity of scripture and the 'plain reading'

Maandiko yote Matakatifu yameandikwa kwa uongozi wa Mungu, na yanafaa katika kufundishia ukweli, kuonya, kusahihisha makosa, na kuwaongoza watu waishi maisha adili,

Clear as a bell, you had better obey this word. Dont come to me with your liberal hermeneutic that says you need someone to explain it. You are just being sinful and obedient.

So goes the argument for a 'plain reading' of scripture, that ignores the need for translation (or that sees translation as the atomistic replacement of words with no respect for culture).

Of course, the plain reading of scripture, without people explaining it to us, is that God does not give a stuff about speaking to us. Seriously, if that is all you had, and someone said, this is God's message to you, well, God wishes to not speak to you. (apologies to those who can read Swahili).

Our bibles are translated, and a good thing too. But this necesserily means that the words used in the original language mean slightly different things to our language and culture and practice.

Scripture is not clear because we can grasp it without any work. (especially historical and hermeneutical work). It is not clear because its meaning is obvious to whoever might pick it up. Scripture is certainly not clear because we access God's word unhindered and unmediated by any human contact. Scripture is clear because Jesus promises to speak through it. Or more precisely, throughout 'them', the apostolic witness, as it spreads through cultures and through time.

The temptation we always face is that the scriptures belong to us rather than to Jesus


Mike B said...

I've been thinking about this Cf. our OT class, in which we've been taught (and this is not a complaint) that you need to know things that aren't in the Bible to understand Zechariah. What does that do for our doctrine of perspicuity?

I'm wondering if, reflecting on what you're saying, we should see the translation of Bibles not as the production of 'standalone' 'Words of God', but as aids in the human mission of sharing the 'Word of God' (which is, still, in the Bible). Or something.

byron smith said...

It would be odd to hold to a doctrine of perspicuity that is not itself found in scripture, and to which the scriptural evidence does not point. If the scriptural evidence is that scripture is not always able to be understood without outside help (like translators, for instance!), then such a wooden doctrine of perspicuity is simply unscriptural.

Of course, historically, the doctrine of perspicuity has claimed no such thing. It was never intended to claim that all of scripture is open and perspicuous (just reading 2 Peter 3 tells us that!), but that the gospel is not hidden in secret codes amongst the scriptures, that is, the basic gist of the good news is visible to the reader, not that every verse makes perfect and obvious sense without help, thought or further research.

byron smith said...

My own hunch is that knowledge of God is an eschatological reality: now we see as in a mirror dimly.

Of course there is a "now" in this eschatological reality, and like all the other eschatological "nows", it is found in Christ by the Spirit.

Mike Bull said...

Good post.
Doug Wilson has some great thoughts on translation: